Noteworthy art is commonly inspired by distress, dissent or conflict. Such sentiments are bound to arise in or around any given community; however, there is as much opportunity to highlight that which is completely positive.
Award-winning mixed media artist James Talbot chooses to take this artistic road less traveled, and tomorrow he unveils his colorfully uplifting "Your Essential Magnificence" public art sculpture on South Congress.
The project, which required 2,100 hours of solitary work, was commissioned to Talbot by the City of Austin in 2003. Because of the very public location, Talbot couldn't work on-site and was challenged to construct the piece by assembling 65 transportable parts, held together by custom-made wires, frames and bolts. Imbedded inside and out of view are objects and mementos which Talbot collected from iconic South Austin locations including the Broken Spoke, the Armadillo World Headquarters and the Cathedral of Junk.
"I never did lose inspiration," Talbot says of the long project. "Once it caught hold, there were too many problems to solve as I went. Figuring how to make a large piece that's actually composed of small pieces that fit together positively—without any worry of alignment—and transportable by my pickup truck was a big, big challenge."
The world doesn't need more [distress], it needs more of what's beautiful or what's right.
So dedicated to the "Magnificence" project was Talbot that he simultaneously enrolled in an Art Metals class at Austin Community College, quit shaving altogether, and his wife, Kay Pils, began jokingly calling herself an "art widow."
Talbot's deep dedication to his art and its surrounding positivity could also be accredited to his involvement in personal growth organizations throughout Austin. For years, Talbot has been involved in a men's growth group that was led by the recently deceased and widely respected Dan Jones.
"[Jones] is probably the only happy person I know, and he achieved that step by step," Talbot says. "I did [counseling] sessions with him, and one of the directions he passed on to me as I was grousing about something in my life was to repeat, 'Not even that can mar my essential magnificence,' and it just really stuck. Before I realized it, it became the name of the piece."
As much as Talbot catered to the sculpture being a photo op for passersby (complete with small steps so children can climb aboard), he mostly wanted the project to feel "wonder-evoking." When someone steps in front of "Magnificence," the hope is that he or she might feel royally dressed and draped in jewels. His art is part playful, part secular and largely esoteric.
People will easily identify Gaudi as a major influencer of Talbot's, not suprising as he spent time living in Spain. However, Talbot spent his childhood living between five different continents, so the influence in his art is just as varied. With such a wide palate to draw from, the aesthetic may seem over the top to some viewers. "When I was really little, we lived in England and then moved immediately to Morocco—there's a big jump there," Talbot explains understandingly. "But I was happy with both of them. And so I can see both of their influences in the same piece."
Talbot explores a blending of distinctive cultures and identities, an idea that readily lends itself to the richness of "Your Essential Magnificence."
"The world doesn't need more [distress], it needs more of what's beautiful or what's right," he says. "I think all people are born wonderful, magnificent and zestful. When that's not showing, that's not because their essential nature is flawed. It's because something is covering it. This [sculpture] is honoring that essential magnificence in the individual."
The City of Austin’s Art in Public Places acquires and maintains works of art for City facilities and parks through commissions, donations and loans for the cultural enrichment of Austin’s community. AIPP is part of the Cultural Arts Division within the City of Austin’s Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Office.
The unveiling will take place at 9:30 a.m., Saturday, September 10th at the South Austin Island Park (2205 S. Congress Ave. at Live Oak St.).